John Ragan concedes that he is neither computer-savvy nor very much interested in using the Internet.
"I'm not an Internet-surfing kind of guy," the 30-year-old carpenter said recently.
But it was his occasional foray onto MarylandWhitetail.com that prompted Ragan to put a classified ad on the hunting-based website, offering to sell all of his bowhunting equipment for the $600 he figured he needed to buy Christmas presents for his family.
Ragan, who grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Westminster with his wife and their two children, 12-year-old son Trenton and 9-year-old daughter Hayley, needed the money after he was laid off from a few sub-contracting jobs in recent months because of the economy.
"It was the only way I thought I could provide a Christmas," Ragan said. "In a matter of a half an hour [after posting his ad], there was a message from one of the moderators to keep my equipment. I don't want to sell my equipment, but I have to do whatever necessary to [buy his kids presents]."
Earl McSorley, a Delaware taxidermist who goes by the screen name "bowdeadly" on the website, told Ragan he'd donate the last $100 if Ragan was able to raise $500. Within two days, Ragan said offers came in totalling more than $1000. Within a couple of weeks, Ragan said his PayPal account had $2300 from donations.
McSorley, who has helped moderate the site for the past three years, said he has never seen the kind of response Ragan's initial request elicited.
"I've never seen that many people offer to give him $200 or $250," McSorley said Friday. "Most were for $20 to $25, but there were even people who said they were in the same position as he was giving him $10. The checks kept coming and coming and coming."
Ragan said he planned to use the initial $600 for his family, but that he was going to give similar amounts to other families in need, including a neighbor with three kids who recently lost his job as a mechanic.
Last week, Ragan posted a message on the website saying Trenton had asked if his family could help feed the homeless. As a result, Ragan said he and his family would buy hats, gloves and coats for those at a homeless shelter in Harford County, and would go to the shelter on Christmas Eve to help serve dinner.
Not only did fellow hunters offer monetary donations, but several wrote Ragan telling him their freezers were stuffed with hundreds of pounds of venison and would like to bring his family several dinners' worth of food. A few gave Ragan leads on job possibilities.
"I might be starting a job as a result of the site," Ragan said last week.
Ragan wrote in a post on the website recently: "Grown man here who thought I was a little bit tuff [sic] has tear in his eyes. You guys have totally turned the xmas spirit around in my home today."
Lou Compton, the president of the Maryland Bowhunters Society, was not surprised by the reaction.
"It's typical of what I've seen in the past," said Compton, who made a $25 donation. "From what I've seen from bowhunters and hunters in general is to be very kind and caring people. It's not the first example of somebody posting something on a [hunting-related] Internet site and people just pitched in and helped each other out, maybe not to this extent. Even a non-hunter telling a story of their house burning down and maybe they've got a couple of young kids, hunters as a rule have been very generous people."
Said Ragan: "The hunting community is so different than what the non-hunters see it as, we help each other, we help scratch each other's back. … It reminds me of the old days, if you have two dollars and you give it to him if he needs it."